If you're a bookworm, you'll know this struggle. If you are into any form of fiction, be it a novel, a movie, a TV show, or a play, you will understand this frustration. It's a tool that authors use; a technique intentionally utilized to entice the audience and build suspense.
Dramatic Irony is a literary technique where the audience knows something that the characters do not. It's a device used to create tension. It's when the author gives something away to the audience, something like a major plot twist, but keeps the story's characters in the dark.
A famous example of dramatic irony is William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Right from page one, Shakespeare gives away a clue to how the play will end. He introduces the two protagonists, Romeo and Juliet, but calls them "Star-cross'd Lovers." (In other words, their romance is doomed to end in tragedy.) Throughout the play, the audience knows that their love story will not have a happy ending, but there is nothing they can do. They have to endure the tale of these two characters, whom the audience grows to love more and more as the play progresses, spiral downwards toward their imminent deaths. As the scenes pass by, the audience must watch in agony as the plot thickens, and things start to go wrong. They must observe in silence as the characters make mistake after mistake and blunder after blunder, approaching the tragic end the audience knew was coming. That's dramatic irony.
Perhaps you've experienced it. Perhaps you've watched a movie, even after seeing it many times, and you've found yourself shouting at the actors on the screen, "DON'T GO IN THERE!" "LOOK BEHIND YOU!" "DON'T TRUST HER!" You know what is going to happen. The director revealed it to you beforehand. But all you can do is watch and wait. You know that the plot has already been written, and it cannot be changed. You know that the story must unfold in this way, however unbearable it may seem. You know what is up ahead, but you must watch your beloved characters make their mistakes and go through their troubles along the way. That's dramatic irony.
Or maybe you know a secret that your favourite character does not. Maybe they believe that something has happened; maybe they think that their loved one is dead... but you know the truth. You know that they will be reunited and that the sorrow will be temporary. However, you cannot skip ahead. The story cannot simply fast-forward to the joy. No, for the story to be complete, the character must first suffer. It's all part of the plot. The ups, the downs, the twists, the turns... it's all necessary. It's all we, the audience, can do to keep from shouting, "It's going to be okay! You'll see!" We know what will happen, but the character must first experience the pain. The sorrow. This is the time for character development. This is the time for decision making. This is the nail-biting torture that the audience must endure. This is dramatic irony. It's what makes the story a story!
Psalm 139:16 - You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Read that again. Try to get your head around that. God imagined your story before a single day of your life even occurred. He recorded every detail. He gave you freedom of choice beforehand, but He sees what choices you will make. He knows. He knows what you will eat for dinner next Tuesday. He knows what school you're going to go to. He knows who you will marry. He knows. He also knows the pain you're going through right now. He knows your thoughts, and he knows the thoughts of the person that is causing you grief. He knows your anger, he knows your sorrow, he knows your stress, he knows your worry. He knows. And not only does he know what's killing you... but he knows how it's going to resolve. He knows the ending to this chapter. He knows how you are going to pull through in the end, and he knows when that relief will come. He knows how it will happen. He knows where it will happen. He KNOWS.
Does that sound familiar? Does that sound any bit like an audience who knows what lies ahead, but must endure with the character until that point? Does that sound any bit like an author who writes the sad part of the story for the main character, and has to live in that grief, knowing full well the joy that is just up the road?
God is just like that. He sees where you are right now, whether you are at a high or a low, and he's there WITH you. He's crying with you, he's laughing with you. And wherever you are... he's also waiting in anticipation for what's coming up ahead. He saw it coming from a million miles away. He knows what's around the corner, even though you don't. Whether it's a wonderful surprise or a sudden tragedy, a gift or a loss, progress or destruction... he sees it already. That's dramatic irony.
But... this dramatic irony is a bit different from the traditional literary device. Usually, the author, the playwright, the reader, and the audience is living in a different world than the characters in the story. They are limited that way. That's why they can't warn the characters. That's why they can't comfort them. That's why they must read on in passive, silent agony. But our Author is different. He walks with us through our struggles, and he is there as a confidant. He, himself, enters into our stories. He sends his very own Spirit to experience with us the ups, the downs, the lefts and the rights. He never leaves us. He embarked on our journeys with us, from the moment we were conceived, and if we abide in him, he will walk with us straight into eternity.
What's keeping him from warning us, then? Why does he keep our future a secret? Why won't he tell us what's up ahead? Fair questions. Annoying questions. Punch-a-pillow questions. It's as frustrating as being a reader who can't tell their favourite character that they're walking into a trap, or that they're going the wrong way. But this is what is amazing about the way God has planned our lives. He's writing it like a story. If he told us what was coming next, why would we need to trust him? If he told us how our lives would end up, why would we bother seeking him? If he told us where the risks we take would bring us... what would be the point of faith?
It's a one-of-a-kind relationship between the Author and the character. The Author has it all figured out, and it is up to the character to rely on him. We can talk to him, cry to him, shout to him, whisper to him, read about him, sing to him, and listen to him. We may be scared, angry, sad, confused, or doubtful, and rightly so! We have NO idea what tomorrow will bring. However, it is not our job to know. We are JUST like the character in the book who makes it to the end, even though they had no clue what was up ahead. The author knew. That's the author's job.
Matthew 6:27, 31-34 - Can all your worries a dd a single moment to your life? So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These thoughts dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring it's own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.
It's His job to know. It's your job to trust. It's my job to take it by faith. It's our job to turn to him for comfort, for truth, for everything. This life is a journey that can be taken by two partners: one knows what's up ahead, and one doesn't. But they're in it together.
That's dramatic irony. It's beautiful, it's annoying, it's bewildering.
But it's also reality.